What Does the Violation of the Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice?

Helping to Clarify the Violation of the Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is injured, experiences worsening conditions, or dies due to a healthcare worker failing to provide proper care to a patient. Misdiagnosis, dispensing the incorrect medication, or unnecessary surgery are just a few examples of medical negligence that could lead to a lawsuit. However, not every mistake made by a healthcare professional is considered medical malpractice.

In order to be deemed thus, the error or negligence must meet three guidelines:

  • Violate the standard of care;
  • An injury was caused;
  • The injury resulted in substantial damages, including hospital bills, loss of income, and physical or emotional trauma.

The foundation of a case begins with understanding the violation of the standard of care. To help you understand this challenging concept, we are breaking down exactly what it means.

What Is the Medical Standard of Care?

In North Carolina, the law requires that any medical malpractice case meet the North Carolina General Statute Chapter 90-21.11 which states that “the defendant health care provider shall not be liable for the payment of damages unless the trier of fact finds by the greater weight of the evidence that the care of such health care provider was not in accordance with the standards of practice among members of the same health care profession with similar training and experience situated in the same or similar communities under the same or similar circumstances at the time of the alleged act giving rise to the cause of action; or in the case of a medical malpractice action as defined in G.S. 90-21.11(2)(b), the defendant health care provider shall not be liable for the payment of damages unless the trier of fact finds by the greater weight of the evidence that the action or inaction of such health care provider was not in accordance with the standards of practice among similar health care providers situated in the same or similar communities under the same or similar circumstances at the time of the alleged act giving rise to the cause of action.”

To sum this up without the legal jargon, the state explains that a healthcare provider isn’t liable for any injury unless evidence shows that they did not act in accordance with the standards of practice among those in the same profession who have similar training and experience within the same or similar community.

It’s important to note that not only must a healthcare professional fail to provide the level or degree of care that a similarly experienced peer would provide, but the area or community would be taken into effect. This means that two emergency room physicians, one in Raleigh and one in Williamston, may not be held to the same standard of care even if they have the same level of experience because the physician in Raleigh may have access to more resources that would improve care for a patient. North Carolina medical malpractice law requires medical providers follow a local standard of care.

How Is the Medical Standard of Care Determined

First, the concept of “standard of care” is not used in medicine, it’s actually a legal term. A jury must determine whether the standard of care was met or not during a medical malpractice case in court. The responsibility to determine this lies with the plaintiff, who must show that the defendant did not meet the appropriate standard of care that a peer with equal training, experience, and access to resources would have. Typically, to establish how the defendant should have responded, a medical expert who practices in the same area of medicine and is familiar with the community (though does not have to be from that community) would testify as to what level of care should have been provided.

For example, if there is a lawsuit against a cardiac surgeon in Greenville because the plaintiff suffered permanent injury due to a surgical error during a valve replacement, the plaintiff’s attorney could call an expert cardiologist as a witness to explain what a reasonable standard level of care would be. In this case, this could mean that there is no reason to expect a competent surgeon to make that type of error, whether the surgery should have been performed at all, or if there were alternative treatments that should have been chosen.

The Res Ipsa Loquitur

Proving that a healthcare provider acted negligently can be difficult to prove, particularly when it’s a case in which the physician wrote the medical reports that are often necessary when determining the foundation of the lawsuit. It’s also not uncommon for a report to be written to protect someone else who may have made an error or acted negligently.

Fortunately, there is a legal way around this issue called res ipsa loquitur, which is a Latin phrase that means “the thing speaks for itself.” Basically, this doctrine is used in a case where a patient is injured following a treatment or procedure where they may not know the cause of the injury itself but know it wouldn’t have happened had the health care professional followed the standard level of care.

Invoking res ipsa loquitur does not shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant.  Rather, it is some evidence that the plaintiff was injured by the negligence of the defendant.

Schedule a Consultation with a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you feel you are a victim of negligence or an avoidable error from a healthcare professional, reach out to a medical malpractice attorney at our Greenville office today. Attorney Harry H. Albritton brings the experience necessary to take on your case. Schedule a consultation today at 252-215-3000 or fill out the easy-to-use contact form below.

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